Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Marin Municipal Water District - Bon Tempe Trailhead

The water is your friend. You don’t have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move. ~Aleksandr Popov

Locale: Marin Municipal Water District, Fairfax, Marin County, CA
Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008
Price: $7
Duration: 5.3 miles (3.5 hrs)
Activity Level: Moderate
All in All: A varied hike that offers a touch of everything.
Rating: ***1/2
Maps & More Info: http://www.marinwater.org/

I do not live in Marin County but must say that it offers some of the most magnificient hikes in the area. Many of the hikes noted also have educational value as well. Particularly this one which is found just in the wooded area behind downtown Fairfax in Marin. The Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) is the source of the water output in Marin County. The lakes here are tapped to serve some 60 million gallons per day! They are filled with different kinds of fish from trout to bass and on a hot summer day, diving into the Bon Tempe Lake feels too tempting to resist. Unfortunately it is not allowed or else it pollutes the water source.

To get to the Bon Tempe trailhead, get on Sir Frances Drake Blvd from 580 (San Rafael Bridge) or from 101. Drive around 10 miles to Fairfax and turn left on Claus which is a dead end in a parking lot. Turn the next right and follow onto Sky Oaks Road the uphill path to the MMWD, pay at the kiosk and go to the second parking lot found on crushed gravel. To start the hike go up the hill from the lot and right away you will see Bon Tempe Dam and lake. The water is nearly transparent and you can sense right away that there will be plenty of wildlife here as the water source looks so pure. We saw a duck cross in front of us as we drove from the kiosk and birds are plentiful here.

Note the signs where fishing is allowed (catch and release is encouraged) and also PLEASE note you are not allowed to swim or have animals swim in the lake as well. On our hike, it was hot and dry and the pretty water was beckoning us but we endured. That didn't stop fellow hikers from letting their dogs covort in the water however. Turn right after the path splits and follow Kent Trail. It begins to climb uphill into the woods alongside the water. It is quite interesting how this hike steadily got more difficult as we went along. Jane Huber on bahiker.com also states something similar. Though the elevation change is not too large and it is only 5 miles long, the hike became a bit exhausting at times due to steep climbs, fallen trees, hiking on loose rocky turf and belts of dry heat. We passed an older woman wearing uncomfortable rubber flip flops (I do not know how and why she chose to wear them). Sturdy boots are recommended.

As you climb up and down watch for birds and sounds of small animals in the brush. There will be a junction with Helen Markt Rd at around 2 miles in but stay on Kent Trail. Here you will be walking away from the water and deeper into the redwoods. Notice how many of the redwoods share a core and branch out. It makes for interesting pictures. Also look for Hidden Lake or "Hidden Swamp" which is what we called it. At about 3 miles or so in and over half done you may feel as if you've been hiking for much longer due to the steep sections and the heat if you go on a hot day. As it is July, we opted to go to this Marin hike rather then go to the desert-like feel of Las Trampas but were we in for a shocker when we got onto Stocking Trail. Stocking Trail will be at about 3.7 miles in and you will take a left onto it. It will lead you the last 1.5 miles to the dam where you started.

It was past high noon on a sunny hot day in July and we realized we were heading uphill on loose rock no longer shaded by tall redwood guards soaking up the UV rays. At this point as well we were about to run out of water (which I recommend bringing a lot of as well as sunscreen) and I had started to stop sweating. A sign of dehydration. At last, the trail at the top gives us vast views of Mt. Tam and Marin. It's literally all downhill for the next mile. At times steeply so. If you are lucky you'll walk through pockets of breeze followed by pockets of dry hot air.

You will come out next to the starting point - right at the edge of the dam. I made a huge mistake before even starting the hike and I later paid for it in the car on the ride home (I'm sure no details are needed). I did not eat nearly enough for breakfast adding to my loss of energy, hunger pangs and dehydration. We also only brought one odwalla bar between us. I didn't feel very well for a few hours following the hike but made sure to still drink enough. For hikes such as this I recommend eating a hearty protein filled breakfast, drinking lots of water, bringing sunscreen and watching for signs of dehydration. Never the less, I enjoyed this hike quite rightly. It gave us a bit of redwoods, beautiful lakeshore views, desert-like air, ridge top views and wildlife scenery. I highly recommend this brief but thigh-workout.